For some people, every aspect of traveling is an amazing experience. From the anticipation in the lead up to a trip to the flight itself and then the experience while they are away from home are all elements of traveling that they love. However, not all people feel the same way about traveling by air. There are many people who will avoid traveling by air whenever possible, and only brave the airport out of necessity. The thought of flying can cause many people a lot of anxiety and this deters them from making a trip. If they do decide to travel by air, it is generally a very stressful experience for them. Now, airports have started to think of ways that they can help nervous passengers to have a more pleasant experience during their time at the airport and during their flight.
One airport that has taken such steps is Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). They have decided that a great way to relieve the stress that some people feel prior to traveling by air is to get a cat that people can pet as a form of stress relief. According to Twin Cities, the airport has introduced an 11-year-old cat called stitches, who is a mixture of a tabby and a calico. Stitches is being employed by the airport to work once a week to offer free comfort therapy to nervous passengers. The cat is currently based in Terminal 1 of the airport, and she is the first cat to work at MSP.
Nikki Christopher is Stitch’s owner, and they have both joined the 96 Animal Ambassador team at MSP. Prior to Stitch’s arrival, the team consisted of only dogs and their owners. The 96 Animal Ambassador team is a program that was founded in 2015 that has since become part of Travelers Assistance. This is a non-profit organization that is administered by Airport Foundation MSP. The aim of the program is to positively enhance the experience of being in an airport and traveling for passengers. The airport used their Twitter account to share the news of Stitch’s arrival at the airport to their followers. They posted a photograph of the adorable cat and explained her new role.
Although working at the airport is a new role for Stitches, this is not the first time she has worked in this capacity has she has a lot of experience of working as a therapy cat. For the last three years, Stitches has worked as a therapy cat for an organization called North Star Therapy Animals and she is registered as a therapy cat through Pet Partners. Her role involves welcoming students to harp and piano lessons at her owner’s home studio and visiting nursing homes to offer comfort to the elderly. Christopher says that at home, the 13-pound cat greets all the students at the door. Her role at the airport is rather different. She arrives in Terminal 1 in a stroller and carrying a sign that encourages people to pet her.
We are very excited to introduce Stitches, the first feline to join our Animal Ambassador crew! Stitches will be available for pets and neck scratches in Terminal 1's mall from 3 to 5 p.m. today. pic.twitter.com/kBuIKFF5EF
— MSP Airport (@mspairport) November 8, 2019
So far, Stitches has been a big hit with passengers. Many are delighted to see her, and lots of passengers have taken selfies with the cat to post on Twitter. Those who have not met her yet but are planning to travel from the airport soon have commented on social media that they are looking forward to meeting her. People have even offered suggestions of how the airport can make better use of the service Stitch is offering. Some have recommended that she is moved closer to the TA check-in lines so that more people can benefit from her comfort.
Stitches is part of an expansion plan at MSP’s Animal Ambassador program. They intend to grow the service significantly as the benefits of petting animals have now been proven by studies. Since January, they have added 37 animals to their program, and they intend to continue adding animals in the future. As Stitches has been such a big hit, it is possible that this will include several more cats to work alongside the dogs.
MSP is far from the only airport in the United States that has recognized the benefits of having animals as therapy for their passengers. Studies have shown that petting a cat or dog can significantly reduce levels of stress and anxiety, which makes adding pets to the airport environment a great solution for dealing with passenger anxiety. It is estimated that more than 70 airports have similar therapy animal programs.
The biggest of these programs is Los Angeles, which boasts 115 teams. This is closely followed by the airports at Denver where there are 109 teams. Currently, MSP ranks in the third position with 96 teams. There are many more airports that currently do not have these teams that have seen the benefits and are now considering starting similar therapy animal programs. Therefore, it is a trend that is spreading across the airports of the United States.
These therapy animal programs are not the only way that MSP is trying to improve the passenger experience and help people to cope with potentially stressful situations. They are also working in partnership with the Metropolitan Airports Commission to deliver cultural and artistic events at the airport. This includes art installations, exhibits created by regional artists, and live music. These are an alternative way to destress for people who are not animal lovers.
Although she loves working as a therapy animal, life is not just all about work for Stitches, though. She has many things that she likes to enjoy during her downtime. Christopher reports that Stitches is an avid television fan and that her favorite TV series is ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She seems particularly fond of Ice-T as she loves his voice. Stitches needs some time for relaxation to help her prepare for her busy schedule helping at the airport and nursing homes.